Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Feat Of Arms

I have mentioned my short career as an Axman in the sand hills of the Florida panhandle, and that one of our vehicles was an Army surplus Dodge truck with a tandem-wheeled trailer.

On the back of the truck body was a heavy steel swivel hitch that the trailer tongue dropped into and was locked. Across one side of this hitch, the side toward the cab, was welded a steel H-beam which supported the front end of the logs. Together, this beam and the swivel hitch actually comprised the "front end" of the trailer, since it was the point about which the trailer and its load of logs pivoted when the truck made a turn. According to my boss, Bob Hicks, the beam and hitch together weighed around five hundred pounds.

One Saturday afternoon Bob and I took the Dodge truck over to Prine's sawmill, on the eastern edge of Chipley, to exchange the beam and hitch for a better unit. By the time we got there the mill had shut down for the weekend, and no one was around to operate the little crane by which the unit was to be lifted off the truck. There were, however, several of the mill workers still standing about, and Bob offered to pay them to help lift the unit off the truck manually, to which they agreed.

After removing the bolts which secured it to the body, two or three of the men got on one end, and two or three on the other, and they strained and grunted, and grunted and strained, but the beam and hitch did not move. They took a breather, then tried again, but to no avail.

During this time Horace Wilkes, a character well known around town, had been standing off to one side, watching. Horace was shorter than most of the other men, but had an awesome physique. His arms were about the size of a small log, and he often won money betting on his feats of strength.

Seeing that the men were not equal to the task, he told them to move out of the way, and he climbed up onto the truck runner beams on which the cross beam and hitch rested. He stooped down and, placing his hands under the bottom of the cross beam, took a long deep breath, and began to apply an upward pull on the beam.

At first the other men did not believe that he would actually try to lift the beam, but then it could be seen that he was executing a very controlled and calculated effort.

Moments passed with no apparent result. More moments passed, and it was observed that Horace's biceps had almost doubled in size, his nostrils were flaring, and water dripped from his face. The men had been amused when he began, but had now become a little uneasy. They wanted to stop this foolish endeavor, but none dared break the silence lest that should have some detrimental effect on Horace.

Suddenly, the beam and hitch were seen to lift slightly, with Horace increasing his effort as his appearance now became truly fearsome.

A few more moments passed as the beam was lifted to the level of his knees. Then he made a supreme effort and, as the men swung out of the way, pitched the beam and hitch to the ground. As soon as the beam cleared his hands the men approached from either side to catch him should he fall.

He did not fall, but accepted their assitance in helping him from the truck and over to a resting place where he sat for several minutes, not in any apparent state of exhaustion but apparently excercising a controlled routine of winding down. Within half an hour he appeared none the worse for his experience.

Bob gave him fifty dollars.

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